Hines spy?

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By Rebecca Bowe

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Here’s the latest twist in the fight over 113 Steuart Street, a shuttered two-story building on the city's northern waterfront that high-profile developer Hines Interests wants to raze and replace with a tall, shiny green building called 110 The Embarcadero. A committee that’s pushing to landmark 113 Steuart is claiming that Hines has used “industrial espionage” to try and thwart their efforts.

On Aug. 4, a group called the 113 Steuart Street Landmark Committee -- comprised of preservationists, historians and labor union members -- held a meeting at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 34 Hall to chart their strategy for landmarking 113 Steuart, which would preclude demolition. The site is historically significant, committee members argue, because it served as the labor hall where International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) leader Harry Bridges and the Maritime Strike Committee organized the Waterfront Maritime Strike of 1934. (The ILA was the predecessor to the ILWU.)

The meeting attracted a newcomer. Committee members Ralph Schoenman and Bradley Wiedmaier told the Guardian that Daniel McGill introduced himself to the rest of the group as a “student of urban planning interested in the field” who professed a “deep interest” in the effort to preserve the building. Throughout the planning meeting, Wiedmaier said, McGill was “feverishly taking notes on everything anyone said.”

If McGill really was there as a Hines spy, we doubt he’d last a day as an FBI informant. As any good spy should know, giving your real name makes it much easier for your foes to denounce you as an infiltrator. Suspicions raised, Weidmaier consulted Google the next day and found McGill listed as an Assistant Project Manager at Hines Interests – the very development firm that aims to tear down 113 Steuart.

Committee members went into an uproar over the discovery, immediately contacting members of the Board of Supervisors to alert them of “unethical, unprofessional and unacceptable conduct on the part of Hines Interests” and calling the move “an affront not only to the members of our committee and our hosts the ILWU Local 34, but to the Board of Supervisors and the larger public.” The committee also sent a letter to Hines demanding that they return all of the notes and materials procured at the meeting, apologize, and promise in writing that they won’t ever do it again.

We tried contacting McGill at Hines and were directed to his voicemail, confirming that there is a Dan McGill employed in the firm’s San Francisco office. We also noted a LinkedIn profile listing a Dan McGill as Assistant Project Manager at Hines in San Francisco. Is it the same person? Did his bosses direct him to go to the meeting? Is he working on the 110 The Embarcadero project? Is he a preservationist? We can only guess at the answers, because he hasn’t responded to our requests for an interview.

Sup. Chris Daly has drafted a resolution to landmark 113 Steuart, and he sent a legislative aide to the Aug. 4 meeting to brief committee members on the proposal, which hasn’t yet been heard in committee.

“Unless this guy’s got a long record of doing proactive preservation work outside of his work with Hines, I’d say it’s unscrupulous to misrepresent yourself at a meeting you weren’t invited to,” Daly told us when asked to comment on the committee's letter. “It’s just really bad form.”

The suspected espionage episode brings yet another layer of controversy to a project that has pitted certain labor unions against others, while also causing strife between green-building proponents and historic preservationists.

In April, labor leaders from ILWU Local 34, Local 10 and Local 91 wrote a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the historic significance of 113 Steuart. “It was ground zero on July 5, 1934, when police and deputies, following orders, shot scores of union members and where Howard Sperry was martyred (in front of the adjoining building),” they wrote. “The bodies of Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise lay in state in this hall for four days. The massive funeral procession of the ILA martyrs … started from this hall.”

In June, the Thirty-Fourth International Convention of the ILWU voted to call “for 113 Steuart to become a landmarked labor history museum, labor education and training center and calls for good union jobs for working people on projects that restore our cities and serve the needs of our people and not the greed of duplicitous developers.”

But not all labor is on the same page. Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, pointed out in an open letter to the ILWU that sculptures, markers, a plaza, and other displays already exist to commemorate the 1934 Maritime Strike, and argued that freezing future development there would bar recession-rocked construction workers from desperately needed jobs.

“We do not understand what there is magical, talismanic, of near religious importance in the particular arrangement of building materials that constitutes 113 Steuart,” Theriault wrote. “We note that the ILWU made no move to preserve 113 Steuart for nearly seventy-five years, not until its proposed demolition and replacement offered to provide us work.”

As the landmark legislation moves forward, there’s potential to revive a months-old battle. Theriault has been at odds with Sup. Daly on this issue, and things came to a head in April when the building trades council assembled union construction workers at a rally outside a Democratic Party luncheon, where they angrily called for Daly’s resignation because of his support for historic-preservation standards.

Securing landmark status for the building is important because “it was at the epicenter of one of the biggest events in San Francisco history,” Daly told us. “I could think of no building of greater historic significance in the city.”

At this point, the push to landmark the building appears to be more active than Hines’ bid for development. The Board of Supervisors voted at a March hearing not to approve Hines' project until a study had been done to determine the historic relevance of 113 Steuart. Don Lewis, a planning department staffer, told us that even the study is at a standstill for now, as Hines has yet to pay associated fees or submit the documents necessary to move forward. “I haven’t heard from them since the hearing,” Lewis told us.